Getting out of the Dark Reliquary was going to be really difficult. Not the least of the group’s worries was that a marilith named Drusii took an interest in them once they arrived and were put in a cell.

Up until this point, Aliya had not told the others about her little secret. Since a young age, she occasionally would see in mirrors a face that was not her own—a similar face, but nonetheless not hers. She didn’t know why this happened. Yet while the adventurers were in a cell in this stronghold of demons and undead, Drusii briefly showed herself in the form of this other woman: the face that Aliya had seen all these years. While this was upsetting, Aliya was to learn that Drusii was not the woman she had seen. That woman was Drusii’s prisoner in the Dark Reliquary.

And no one knew where Feruch the paladin was at all. They would only much later learn that the demons had left him for dead in the Necropolis—at night. He barely got out alive.

Once they were alone again, a prisoner in the next cell started talking to them. Only through him did they learn where they were. The other prisoner, a half-orc, gave them a tooth from his own mouth with a very special rune on it. Serai was able to trigger the rune’s special magic: It was the key to an extradimensional prison, where an orcish demigod of fire named Ochremeshk had been imprisoned.

The group used the distraction (to put it mildly) of the sudden appearance of a 25-foottall humanoid of fire to escape their cell, break into the pain pits where Sister Mara was facing terrible torture. They escaped through an arena into a maze of very old passages and down through a secret elevator that led to an ancient temple and a way out through the cliffs by the sea.

In the arena, however, the PCs encountered one of the Rat God priests they had seen before when fighting rat men elsewhere in the city. Clearly, the forces of chaos (the Rat God’s followers among them) were allied with the Fallen and Forsaken of the Dark Reliquary. Even stranger, the old temple that they passed through seemed to belong to one of the evil and ancient Galchutt whom they had learned about. Did the demons above know about this place? It seemed not.

After some rest and recuperation, the group still needed to go back into the Necropolis and deal with Wynn’s quest for his lost love, Quideth, the woman imprisoned in the gem. They needed to get into the tomb of Alchestrin, whose entrance was surrounded by standing stones, could access it only at night.

So, despite the dangers of the nocturnal Necropolis, they went to the standing stones and waited until dark. They were assailed by ghouls, seeking fresh human flesh to feast upon. Fending off undead, the adventurers pulled up the plug that sealed the entrance to the tomb of Alchestrin and went down inside.

Full of undead guardians and magical traps, this place was very dangerous. In fact, it was more than the adventurers could handle. Repelled by the defenders, they fled back up and out into the night, where they were further hounded by undead shadows and other terrible things that haunted the dark Necropolis. They decided to make for the island they had seen earlier: Clasthamus Isle and its druid protector, Andach. Crossing the old stone bridge, they were relieved to see their undead pursuers did not follow them. They took shelter there until daylight, for the Stones of Thamus protected the island, just as Andach had said. They retreated into the city and recruited some friends to help them: namely, the Company of the Black Lantern.

Together, the combined group plundered Alchestrin’s tomb, defeating its powerful guardians and even Alchestrin himself—undead now, his rotting intestines writhing and attacking them with mouths as he cast spells. One harrowing fight later, around the evil wizard’s terrible undead tree that produced vampire spawn in its seed pods, the adventurers proved victorious. Sadly, though, there were casualties—both Aliya and Serai fell in battle. Worst of all, they learned that Quideth wasn’t imprisoned at all: She had become undead herself and had fallen in love with Alchestrin. The group managed to imprison her in a soul-gem (the irony completely lost on them) and returned her in that state to Wynn. When confronted with the betrayal of it all, Wynn fell into a deep despair.

But now that the two groups were together, discussing matters and telling tales, one name kept creeping into conversion: Helmut Itlestein. He was connected with the assassins that had attacked both groups, as well as those who’d attacked the boy under the Company of the Black Lantern’s protection and Phon, the young woman the other group had aided. So they all decided to pay him a visit.

After much reconnaissance, they learned where he lived and infiltrated his home. He was not present, but they learned much from going through his things and interrogating the two people hiding in his basement. Helmut was a priest of the Watcher of the Skies, a god who dealt in prophecy and portents. The two people the group confronted worked for the Fate Weavers, an organization that claimed to see the weave of time and foretell the future. Both they and Helmut saw terrible things coming in the near term. Helmut specifically believed that certain children, all born bearing special runes (like Malkeen Balacazar’s nephew), soon would bring about events that spelled disaster for the city.

Helmut, it seemed, was a stalwart defender of the city and its people. He even backed a group that called itself the Republicans. This faction struggled to institute political change and transform Ptolus into a republic independent of the Empire, in which people could vote for representatives rather than serve distant Emperors and their appointed Commissars.

But worst of all, the group learned that Helmut believed that, should he ever have a son or daughter of his own, he was destined to have only these rune-marked children. Thus, when his lover Phon became pregnant, he resorted to drastic measures and hired assassins to kill her. After the adventurers saved her from the hired killers, he had spirited her away ©2005 Monte J. Cook. All rights reserved.

So when Helmut came home, accompanied as he often was by his shield guardian construct, a fierce battle ensued. The adventurers defeated Helmut but could not bring themselves to kill him. Instead, they threatened to expose his treasonous political plans if he harmed any other children. It was a terrible position for the adventurers to be in, and not all of them agreed with the decision to let him go. The two groups parted, few of them really believing that this was actually over.

Next Time: The Company of the Black Lantern gets a key to the mysterious underground city of Dwarvenhearth and on the way there ends up finding a place to call home.